Ayrton Senna’s former team-mate, Damon Hill, says driver error - and not mechanical failure – was the probable cause of the F1 legend’s fatal crash at San Marino 10 years ago.

Ayrton Senna’s former team-mate, Damon Hill, says driver error - and not mechanical failure – was the probable cause of the F1 legend’s fatal crash at San Marino 10 years ago.



"I have listened to endless theories about why, or how, Senna crashed on such a "simple" corner like Tamburello (at the time a flat-out left bend on the Imola circuit). I am convinced he made a mistake, but many people will never believe that he could," Hill said of the accident, which took place a few laps into the infamous 1994 San Marino Grand Prix on May 1.


In a column published in the , Hill attempted to debunk the myth of Senna and his almost God-like status in the world of motorsport.


Senna 'made many mistakes'


"Senna made many mistakes in his career. He was identified with pushing to the limit and beyond. He would often prefer to crash into his opponent rather than be defeated. These opinions are sacrilege in the world of driving gods," Hill said.


"Ayrton was a great driver and not a god. He was as frail and vulnerable as you or I to the need to show what we are made of, and to whatever personal motives drove him to feel that risking his life was proof of his integrity," Hill added.


'Steering column did not break'


The Italian investigators of the crash seized upon the theory that the steering column on Senna's car broke and that the malfunction caused his Williams-Renault to spear into the wall. Charges were brought against Williams-Renault team boss Frank Williams, technical director Patrick Head and then designer Adrian Newey. They were later cleared of manslaughter charges in a trial in Bologna in 1997. But a new hearing has since been convened.


"What was not well-known was that the car had power steering. I had tested this system extensively with Williams Grand Prix Engineering, but drove the whole race with it turned off as a safety precaution recommended by the engineers after Ayrton's accident, as they were unable to be sure at that time what the cause was," Hill said in defence of his former team, for whom he later won the 1996 world championship title.


"In fact, the column could easily withstand the considerably increased loading for the whole race distance. It is inconceivable to me that Ayrton's column could have broken with the power steering working normally, which I believe it was from the data subsequently retrieved from his car," the Briton said.


The San Marino Grand Prix of 1994 was the first F1 event to see the deployment of a CART-style safety vehicle. The safety car was deployed while marshals cleared debris from the track following a first lap incident. When the race recommenced, tragedy struck... Senna was leading the race, with Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Ford in hot pursuit... approaching Tamburello at full throttle, Senna's car appeared to head straight on and crashed into the wall.


"By his (Senna's) own concerns, expressed in the driver's briefing, he knew what the implications were of a safety car being deployed. It was not the fault of anyone else that he kept his foot flat when he could have lifted, but Ayrton had to be this demigod "Senna", and "Senna" does not shrink from fear. And in that moment he fulfilled all our sorry needs for a hero for whom death is just an occupational hazard," Hill said.


There was a pool of Senna's blood - Brundle


"When people ask me where I was when Senna died I can give them a pinpoint answer," former McLaren driver and current ITV commentator Martin Brundle said. "I was avoiding one of his wheels. I was running seventh when he crashed and one of his wheels came bouncing my way. I thought it was (Damon) Hill to begin with. Then we realised it was Senna and after the race was red-flagged we were told he was OK, so off we go racing again. When the race wasn't stopped, it was natural to think that meant he was fine."


"It was two hours after the race when I heard through paddock gossip that Senna had died," he remembers. "I felt total disbelief. No, no, no. Not Senna. He's too good in the car. I began to realise we had been racing past a pool of his blood 20 yards from trackside for lap after lap. It was sickening to think of it.”